At its start, The Cool Kids’ career trajectory moved fairly steadily. It began with a few songs uploaded to a MySpace profile, followed by a mixtape, a few choice festival performances, and the release of their fantastic EP, 2008’s The Bake Sale. Then things slowed down – way down. Three years and a couple mixtapes later, it’s 2011, and the group is only now, finally, unleashing their debut album.
The numerous delays in the release of When Fish Ride Bicycles can be blamed solely on label trouble. Trouble, in fact, that is strikingly similar to what rap duo Clipse dealt with leading up to the release of their album Hell Hath No Fury. The similarities (including production by The Neptunes – which I’ll touch on later) don’t stop there.
A major consequence of Clipse’s label woes was time out of the spotlight, which effectively killed any hype or momentum the group had built. Any close follower of the blogosphere likely senses a similar lull in anticipation when it comes to the release of When Fish Ride Bicycles. But let it be known: it’s here, and it’s just as good as you’d imagined.
The record starts off strong with opener “Rush Hour Traffic,” a track with a constantly evolving beat that immediately quells any fear that the group had gone stale in their time away. Chuck Inglish’s production is as instantly recognizable as ever, and his modern approach to 80s hip hop is just as thrilling as it was when the group first hit the scene. But this isn’t just a simple retread of what we’ve already been exposed to. As evidenced on tracks such as the Travis Barker-assisted “Sour Apples” and lead single “Summer Jam,” the production here is more layered, and much grander, than anything the group has released previously.
Also working in the album’s favor is its cohesion. The Cool Kids’ decision to stick solely with Inglish’s production throughout the entirety of their work has always played a huge role in the consistency of their sound. That the two Neptunes-produced tracks included here – a risky prospect given what I just touched on – fit perfectly within the record means the album retains The Cool Kids’ sonic identity all the way to its finish.
If you’re looking for lyrical substance, you won’t find it here, but any person even vaguely familiar with The Cool Kids should know that’s not really their M.O. – what they lack in lyricism is more than made up for musically. That being said, we are treated to some nice guest verses by Ghostface Killah on album highlight “Penny Hardaway,” arguably the centerpiece of the record. The other guests here, Asher Roth and Chip tha Ripper among them, are much less memorable, but their inclusion does little to no harm to the songs they’re featured on.
Overall, When Fish Ride Bicycles won’t convert any naysayers, but for both fans and those new to the group, this is a tightly-crafted showcase for the unique sound and style of The Cool Kids. With the label drama seemingly behind them, and a strong debut under their belt, let’s hope their next work comes sooner rather than later.